Average Day in San Pancho Part 5: English Lessons

This could get confusing, so let me clarify real quick: I'm currently in Leiden, NL, but am posting about my time in San Pancho, MX.  A couple weeks ago, I moved to Leiden so abruptly that I didn't get a chance to publish all of my San Pancho stories.  So, the next couple of posts will finish off the San Pancho saga, and then I'll switch over to my Leiden adventures.  Make sense?  Kinda?  Ok, good enough!


6:00PM - 7:30PM: English Lessons

It only took 2 months, but we're finally back to my Average Day in San Pancho!  Here's a quick refresh if you, like me, forgot where we left off:

After finishing up at Entre Amigos, I switch to my second (non-paid) job in San Pancho: tutoring English.  When I first talked to the Entre Amigos' folks about volunteer opportunities, I mentioned tutoring as a potential option.  Did I have experience teaching English?  Nope.  Was I anywhere close to being fluent in Spanish?  Nope.  But I had free time, knew enough Spanish to get by, didn’t want money, and – most importantly – spoke English natively.  I figured that even if I turned out to be a horrible teacher, I could at least serve as a friendly sounding board for English practice.  The Entre Amigos' crew had a bit more confidence in me, and a couple days later connected me with my first student.



Within minutes of meeting Marychuy (full name Maria Jesus Fuerte Guantes...I think that's all of them!), I realized she was incredibly hardworking and motivated.  When she wasn't taking group English classes at Entre Amigos, she worked full-time as a glassmaker in the adjacent warehouse.  She had a second full-time job as a chef in a local hotel.  As if two jobs weren't enough, she also worked as a lifeguard at a local swimming pool in the summer.  Why so many jobs, when most San Pancho residents had just one?  Marychuy wanted to provide for her daughter Maria Jose while saving enough money to one day study at a culinary school.  Like their US counterparts, the best culinary schools in Mexico were taught in English, hence Marychuy's desire to learn the language.  

Marychuy and I clicked right away.  She was just around my age (and shocked I didn’t have a child yet, let alone a wife or girlfriend), and equally interested in learning English as she was in helping me practice Spanish.  Our classes, which started as weekly hour-long sessions, soon became two-hour-long, twice-a-week conversations complete with plenty of joking and gossip.  In a matter of weeks, she became my best friend in San Pancho.  I spent my last full day in Mexico with her and her extended family at a private beach in their town.

The first thing Marychuy showed me when I visited her house was this adorable cluster of kittens!

Marychuy's extended family got a kick out of me fawning over the family of kittens and snapping pictures....although Marychuy gave me a "Keith! Vaminos!" after I spent too long petting them.



Word soon spread that the gringo everyone kept seeing around offered free English tutoring.   I actually downloaded What's App specifically to coordinate lessons with the increasing number of women who wanted lessons.   I say “women” because all but two of my thirteen tutorees were female.  I like to think it was because the ladies of San Pancho wanted one-on-one time with the strikingly handsome international man of mystery living in town.  A more likely scenario, however, probably had to do with hospitality / tourism being the preferred industry for Mexican women (versus construction for men).  Here were all my wonderful tutorees, in no particular order.

Conducting a lesson in Entre Amigos (that's the Galeria there on the left).  I think we were reading a book of English words during this one.

Jassel, her son Alonso, and me outside of Entre Amigos (which was undergoing construction, hence the sand and concrete).

Marychuy - I got to know her family really well (her mom actually made the tortillas at Taqueria Arbolitos), and we're actually continuing our lessons remotely!

Jassel & Alonso - pictured below, these two never failed to make me laugh.  No tutor session was complete without Jassel inquiring about my marital status, followed quickly by a joke about us getting married.

Elsa - Marychuy's coworker at Entre Amigos, renowned for her accessory-design abilities (every woman working at Entre Amigos wore these really cool feather earrings Elsa had made)

Maria - pictured below with part of her huge family, she was one of the most genuinely happy people I've ever met.  Nothing in life fazed her, and she always had a warm, contagious smile on her face.

Tania - Maria's daughter, an extremely intelligent teenager who did a great job of putting up with me (her mom made her take English lessons).  She actually became one of my Spanish tutors after a month or so!

Felipe - the owner of the local gym and the only male I tutored...he warrants a seperate post, which will be the next "Average Day" installment.

Tei - A tiny woman with a huge heart, she brought her whole family to my apartment the night before I left to wish me well and deliver a card with chocolates.

Ramon, Marychuy, and me at the Los Lamos beach in Marychuy's hometown on my last day!  (I know I used this picture in the last post...turns out I didn't take any others with my man Ramon, so this will have to suffice.)

Mitchell - Tei's daughter, studying English so she could apply to study at Cambridge University, which requires candidates to pass a series of extensive English tests first.

Mayra - A cousin of Socorro, whose strong-willed attitude, when mixed with my own personality, produced entertaining back-and-forths that always ended in mutual laughter.  I started calling her "burra," which means bull (and stubborn).  Of course, this prompted her to immediately call me burro - the masculine form of the word - from then onward.

Jaqui - Mayra's sister's daughter, a mature-beyond-her-years teen who I bonded with instantly.  She also became a Spanish tutor of mine, and most of our "lessons" would simply be gossip sessions and life chats.

Ramon - Mayra's brother, who I also played basketball with every week (more on that in a future post).  Ramon, Marychuy, and I all studied together and became very close.

America - a student in the Entre Amigos' English class, I remember being surprised at her adept pronounciation of the notoriously tough English letter combinations.

Consuelo - we only had a formal class once, but that was enough to become friends, and we always saw each other around town.

Maria with her granddaughter Abril, surrounded by her daughter Fany (top), son Enrique (bottom right), and Enrique's friend.  The kids would climb the tree and pick us guyanas (small fruits) to eat during our lessons.



As I mentioned in earlier posts, Mexicans are known for their immense kindness (though perhaps not by the sensationalist media).  Here are just a couple "gifts" I received from my students during my time in San Pancho.



One time, I walked to Taqueria Arbolitos, sat down, and waited for the masero (waiter) to spot me.  It had gotten to the point where I didn't actually need to order, since the waiters - friendly guys probably in their low-twenties - all knew me.  In fact, it only took three or four times of me ordering "tres tacos adobada y agua de ochata chica por favor" (three pork tacos and a small sweet rice water please) for them to realize that was all this gringo was ever going to eat.  Towards the end of my time in San Pancho, they got good at spotting me approaching and would usually have my plate of tacos ready for me as I sat down. 

Anyways, I had just taken a seat, and hadn't yet caught the eye of the waiters on a busy Friday night.  "KEIT!" I heard from behind me.  "KEIT! HOLAAAAA!" called Jassel, seated at a nearby table with her son Alonso.  "Ah, hola Jassel, hola Alonso!" I replied, and they beckoned me over.  They had both finished their meal, and Alonsito (as Jassel affectionately called him) was getting tired.  That didn't stop Jassel from pulling up a chair for me, then calling the waiter to come take my order at her table.  Jassel and I chatted in our usual English-Spanish mixture as I devoured my tacos and Alonsito played with his sombrero.  At one point, I left the table to go put beans, salsa, and peppers on my tacos (a seemingly unimportant detail in the story, but just wait...).   Soon after I finished my meal, Jassel had Alonso give me a goodbye kiss on the cheek and left to put him to bed.  Now alone at the table, I asked the masero for the check when he stopped by to grab my plate, much to his confusion.  "The woman paid for you" he told me.  "Oh!  Uhhhh ok then." I said, and a sly smile of realization crept onto his face.  "Wait! It's not like that!  She's just my student!" I said, knowing what he was probably thinking.  "Sure," he replied in perfect English, and gave me a wink as he walked away chuckling.


More Tacos!

Felipe would always take me out to get tacos after our early morning lessons at 10am.  Our favorite spot?  A small taqueria in nearby Sayulita serving nothing but carnitas tacos.  They were, hands down, the best carnitas tacos I've ever had in my life.  I'm actually salivated a bit as I type this.  I gotta get back there soon.


Free Gym Usage

In addition to the free breakfasts, Felipe refused any gym fees after I started tutoring him.



Every time I showed up to a lesson, usually held at Entre Amigos, there was a 50% chance my tutoree would have snacks for me.  The most common was Coca Cola (what else?), followed closely by cookies, fruit, avocados, mangos, beer, and agua fresca (flavored water). 


New Family

One of the perks of tutoring wasn't a tangible thing - it was the opportunity to meet and get-to-know the wonderful residents of San Panhco.  I formed deep, long-lasting relationships with many of them, and when I left, everyone said I'd have a place to stay when I returned.  "You're part of our family now!" was a common phrase I heard.  Considering I arrived in town without knowing anyone, speaking essentially zero Spanish, that was definitely the best gift of all.


- Keith

PS. You'll get to meet the little rascal pictured below in the next post.